My hometown of McKenzie, Tennessee, has a small and aging population. As a result, the city’s few doctors are pretty important to the local community. Those doctors also rely heavily on the Medicare program, which is effectively how all senior citizens access health coverage.
Despite seeing many patients on Medicare over the course of his 30-year career, Dr. Byran Merrick is now in hot water with the program that could cause thousands of patients in the community to lose their doctor. Did he have a systemic scheme of fraudulently stealing millions of dollars from Medicare? No. According to news reports, his staff accidentally billed $670 to the program—for which he was never even paid.
As a result of the error, Medicare has banned him from the program for three years. But because the agency has a massive backlog on these types of things, by the time it gets around to reviewing his appeal, he may no longer be in business, causing an already underserved area to lose a crucial community doctor.
Tennessee already suffers from a doctor shortage, especially in rural areas like McKenzie. Now, a behemoth federal agency that can’t get its act together might exacerbate that shortage, stripping thousands of patients, many of whom are seniors, from the doctor they love. All over the price of a new iphone.
We should certainly fight to eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse in Medicare and every other government program. But effectively ending a community doctor’s medical career over a $700 clerical error is about as dumb as only the federal government can get. As we’ve warned in the past, we need to think long and hard before giving government bureaucrats even more control over our healthcare decisions. This is the type of thing that happens when we do.